Wednesday, July 18, 2012

That sound you hear is the shattering of the glass ceiling once again, and not because former Google exec Marissa Mayer has taken over as CEO of internet giant Yahoo, but because she is taking on that role while pregnant with her first child.

While the debate will continue over whether she’ll be able to turn the struggling company around, there are many who will also wonder how Mayer will be able to juggle the incredible demands of a challenging new position and a newborn.

The fact is, not many women at her level are faced with this dilemma, and either one on its own is tough enough.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, herself the mother of two young children, had been outspoken about carving out time with her kids. She admitted recently she leaves work at 5:30 to have dinner with them. But we all know she’s not putting her feet up and watching TV after they go to bed. She’s often checking email because being “at work” is no longer necessary for “doing work.”

Mayer is well known for encouraging girls to study computer science, and for advising women not to step back from career opportunities when starting a family. But no one, including Mayer, knows how she’ll feel once her baby is born.

In confirming her pregnancy to Fortune, Mayer said she will be taking a few weeks off for maternity and getting right back to work.

“My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it,” she said.

Mayer also added that the Yahoo directors did not have an issue with hiring a pregnant chief executive: “They showed their evolved thinking.”

The board did make an adjustment to accommodate her pregnancy: they moved the September board meeting from New York to Mayer’s California hometown. Mayer will also have access to a flexible schedule if need be – a perk most professional women don’t have. In fact, those that do, among them Sandberg and HP CEO Meg Whitman, are at the very top. Not to mention the luxury of being able to afford great child care to accommodate their schedules.

But does this “evolved thinking” reflect a trend for society in general? Are more women being allowed flexible schedules in order to balance work life with family life? Will the benefits these trailblazers are enjoying now be passed onto the American work force in general? Technology allows workers to connect from anywhere, one no longer actually needs to be ‘in the office’ in order to work.